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Moving Brokers vs. Carriers: What’s the Difference?
At a glance
When you’re shopping for a full-service mover, you’ll probably notice that moving companies call themselves one of two things: moving brokers or moving carriers. But they rarely explain what either of these terms means.
We think you should know exactly what you’re getting when you hire a mover, so we’ve broken them down for you.
Moving brokers, also called brokerages, are like travel agents for your move. They don’t own any moving trucks or hire moving staff. Instead, they coordinate your move with other companies. This process can make your move a little easier and cheaper since the broker manages all the logistics and gets quotes from multiple competing carriers.
However, a lower price isn’t guaranteed, and some brokers are reportedly pretty shady.
Moving carriers, on the other hand, own their own moving van fleets, hire in-house moving staff, and facilitate moves themselves. This business model is a bit more transparent since it guarantees your belongings will be shipped by the same company you selected for your move.
However, carriers can be more expensive than brokers, and they may require extra research and planning on your part.
Though the differences between these two models may seem obvious, the boundary isn’t always black and white. For example, some companies, like International Van Lines, are registered as both carriers and brokers. This allows them to change between the two roles depending on what a customer needs.
That’s the short answer. If you want a more detailed breakdown of the benefits and drawbacks of working with either type of moving company, keep reading.
Not all companies tell you whether they’re brokers or carriers (or both), so you may have to do a little sleuthing to find out which category a company falls into.
Luckily, the US Department of Transportation gives you free access to its Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) database where you can look up a moving company by name to see how it’s registered.
Instead of operating their own moving businesses, brokers work as middlemen between you, the customer, and the carrier that actually delivers your household goods. While this may seem unnecessary, brokers do offer some considerable benefits. However, there are also a few hazards to watch out for.
Benefits of moving with a broker
One of the most significant advantages of working with a broker is convenience. Since they outsource all of their services to other companies, brokers often have a much more diversified menu of moving amenities than individual carriers.
For example, let’s say you wanted to add car shipping to your move. If you hired a moving carrier to ship your furniture, you might have to coordinate with a second company to transport your vehicle. However, if you were working with a brokerage, the company would find an auto shipper for you in addition to whichever carrier they chose for your household goods.
The other advantage brokers offer is that they usually make multiple carriers compete for your move, and the carriers will undercut each other’s prices to be chosen. This means your move could cost significantly less than if you worked directly with just one carrier.
That’s the theory, anyway.
Drawbacks of moving with a broker
Do those benefits sound too good to be true? Sometimes they are. While some brokers work the way we’ve described above, there are a fair number of fraudulent or irresponsible moving brokers out there waiting to take advantage of you and other customers.
The most common way bad brokers mistreat their customers is with unexpected price increases. Customers occasionally report that the carriers who show up on moving day charge much more than what their broker told them it would cost. To avoid this, ask your broker for a binding, written estimate that thoroughly catalogs every item you’re moving, preferably after an in-home inspection of your stuff.
The worst brokers are actually just scammers that take whole truckloads hostage and then charge exorbitant amounts of money before they’ll give your stuff back. Any moving company that’s properly licensed shouldn’t do this. Check your broker’s credentials in the FMCSA database to make sure the company is licensed through the federal government.
In 2012, the US Senate investigated fraudulent moving brokers. The committee’s report concluded that many brokerages offer sub-par service—and some are even scams.
A lot has changed since 2012 (like, a lot), and some of our favorite moving companies are brokers, but you should always check a company’s licensing status and reputation before you sign a contract or pay a penny.
Some of our favorite moving brokers
If you like the sound of a moving broker, but you’re intimidated by the potential pitfalls, we recommend checking out one of these reputable brokers:
Every moving carrier owns and maintains its own fleet of moving vans and trucks and hires its own professional movers and drivers. Moving with a carrier is more straightforward than working with a broker, but that doesn’t mean it’s inherently more convenient or risk-free.
Benefits of moving with a carrier
Unlike moving with a broker, every person you meet while moving with a carrier—from the customer service representative on the phone to the truck driver who shows up on moving day—all works for the same company.
This results in a much more uniform and consistent experience at every turn. Also, since carriers don’t have to coordinate with other moving companies, miscommunication is much less likely, and you probably won’t see a dramatic difference between the price you’re quoted and what you actually pay.
Drawbacks of moving with a carrier
Like we said earlier, moving carriers can be a little more pricey than brokers since they don’t have to compete with each other and lower their prices to attract your business. That said, some of them do have price-matching policies, so if you put in some effort to gather multiple written estimates, you may be able to negotiate a lower price.
Another drawback is that moving carriers usually have a more limited assortment of services because they have to do everything they offer themselves. If they have a smaller fleet or limited nationwide reach, they probably can’t do car shipping, home cleaning, or something else a brokerage could do for you.
Also, just because a moving company calls itself a carrier doesn’t mean it is one. You should always check the FMCSA database to make sure a company is legit before hiring it to ship anything you own.
Moving carriers are sometimes called van lines. However, this doesn’t mean that a company that describes itself as a “van line” isn’t a broker, and some brokers even put the words “van line” in their names.
Check the FMCSA database if you’re unsure which type of company you’re dealing with.
Some of our favorite moving carriers
If you’d prefer to work with a carrier instead of a broker, we recommend checking out any of these companies (some of which also function as brokers for specific services):
Now that you know the difference between a moving broker and a moving carrier, here are a few guides we think might be helpful in planning your move: